Sex Industry with Different Perspectives

The Trafficking Tree

ZURICH — Local officials have decided that this city’s expanding legal sex industry needs to be better organized. Zurich municipal authorities have proposed a series of changes to existing prostitution regulations that would allow prostitutes to continue plying their trade, but only in three specific zones — including one equipped with new booths to welcome their clients.

The proposed measures, which need the city council’s approval, include forbidding street prostitution along the Sihlquai riverbank and in the busy Langstrasse area. In exchange, the activity will be allowed between Aargauerstrasse and Würzgrabenstrasse, outside the city center, where booths will be built to accommodate sex workers and their customers.

Street prostitutes will still be allowed to work in the city’s pedestrian nightlife area, the centrally located Niederdorf, and solicit vehicle-driving clients in Allmend Brunau. The Zurich city council expects the new laws will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012. Presenting the new measures to the media at a town-hall press conference on May 25, were three of Zurich’s nine city councilors: Claudia Nielsen, Daniel Leupi and Martin Waser, who are responsible, respectively, for policies on health and environment, the police and social issues.

They explained that the city council’s goal in introducing the measures was to combat human trafficking, offer appropriate response to victims, minimize the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and protect both sex workers and the population at large from violence. Also they explained that at peak hours, when up to 120 sex workers can operate at the same time, street solicitation can be a real disturbance to ordinary people, thus the need to channel the activity to designated areas. The number of female sex workers in Zurich in 2010 had increased significantly over recent years, with many of the new workers arriving from Hungary. The rise in the number of workers also increased pimping and human-trafficking risks. The new measures, were not so much anti-prostitution as anti-trafficking.

As sex workers often didn’t have information about their rights, the council was looking to advise prostitutes by establishing direct lines of communication. Once the new regulations are in place, sex workers (whether or not they work the streets) will also need to obtain licenses.

The council initially plans to build 10 booths, popularly known as sex boxes, in Altstetten — more to be built if the amount of activity warrants it. Resources presently allocated to Sihlquai will be switched to the new area, so the only additional costs, anticipated at $2.8 million, will be those of constructing the boxes.

The new Altstetten prostitution area will be easy to monitor, control and protect, council members say. It will be operated and maintained by social services. Residents of the area have been informed of the plan. Plans for the design and construction of the sex boxes, scheduled to be ready by the spring of 2012, are already under way.

Mexico City:

Prostitution is a civil offense in Mexico City, and recent efforts to legalize it have gotten snared in legislative gridlock. Torres argues, however, that the rules are ambiguous and that international labor laws recognize sex work as legitimate employment. Further, prostitution zones have long been tolerated along some parts of the Mexico-U.S. border, providing havens for gringo truck drivers and young Texans looking to lose their virginity.

But downtown Mexico City is a long way from the Rio Grande. There are few American clients spending dollars in Buenavista. Mostly the johns are working and middle-class Mexicans
who stop here after work and pay as little as $10 for a service. In these conditions, it could be hard to convince many of the sex workers themselves that it would benefit them to relocate to a special zone. “I have been here for 10 years. I had to work hard to get my place, and now I have my regular clients,” says Monica, 35, eyeing passing men to get their attention. “Why should I move from here now?”

The women also have a deep-seated distrust of the government. Prostitutes complain that they are routinely shaken down by police, who demand $50 payoffs and threaten to lock them up overnight if they don’t pay. Several prostitutes were suspicious that the new circuit was part of a government plan to tax them. And none of the prostitutes interviewed said they had to pay hustlers on the streets. “I don’t work for pimps. I don’t work for madams. And I am not going to work for the government,” says Jennifer, a heavily made-up 24-year-old pacing in place to keep warm in the evening chill. “This is my business to provide for my family. And I want it to stay that way.”


In Iraq, mothers are hard pressed to pimp their daughters to survive. The underworld is a place where nefarious female pimps hold sway and where impoverished mothers sell their teenage daughters into a sex market that believes females who reach the age of 20 are too old to fetch a good price. The youngest victims, some ages 11 and 12, are sold for as much as $30,000, while others can go for as little as $2,000. “The buying and selling of girls in Iraq, it’s like the trade in cattle,” Hinda says. “I’ve seen mothers haggle with agents over the price of their daughters.”

The trafficking routes are both local and international, and most often connect to Syria, Jordan and the gulf (primarily the United Arab Emirates). The victims are trafficked either illegally on forged passports or “legally” through forced marriages. A married female, even one as young as 14, raises few suspicions if she’s traveling with her “husband.” The girls are then divorced upon arrival and put to work.  Nobody knows exactly how many Iraqi women and children have been sold into sexual slavery since the fall of Saddam Hussein‘s regime in 2003.

There is no official number because of the shadowy nature of the business. Baghdad-based activists like Hinda and others estimate it to be in the tens of thousands. Still, it remains a hidden crime, one that the 2008 U.S. State Department‘s Trafficking in Persons report says the Iraqi government is not combating. Baghdad, the report says, “it offers no protection services to victims of trafficking, reported no efforts to prevent trafficking in persons and does not acknowledge trafficking to be a problem in the country.”

While sexual violence has accompanied warfare for millenniums and insecurity always provides opportunities for criminal elements to profit, what is happening in Iraq today reveals how far a once progressive country (relative to its neighbors) has regressed on the issue of women’s rights and how ferociously the seams of a traditional Arab society that values female virginity have been ripped apart. Baghdad’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, Nawal al-Samarraie, resigned last month in protest of the lack of resources provided to her by the government.